Our History Seminar Series commences this week with a presentation from Professor Klaus Neumann titled ‘Representing Multicultural Australia in National and State Libraries’.
Australian history as the cumulative history of everyone who has ever lived in Australia
I will discuss a proposed ARC Linkage project, “Representing multicultural Australia in national and state libraries”, which aims to analyse how the histories and cultures of migrants from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds have been represented in the National Library of Australia and select state library collections. The project is underwritten by the idea that Australian history ought to be understood as the cumulative history of everyone who has ever lived in Australia, rather than only as the history of a territorially-bounded nation-state. In order to demonstrate why this project could be fascinating, I will talk in more detail about a particular genre of texts held by Australian libraries.
Since the first introduction of multicultural government policies in the 1970s, migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds have published well over a thousand memoirs and other biographical or autobiographical book-length texts; last year alone, there were almost a hundred such books. A handful of books – for example, Anh Do’s 2010 autobiography The Happiest Refugee – have been widely read, but the majority have been self-published with a very limited print-run.
Initially – at a time when migrants were still expected to have left their pasts behind when they settled in Australia – many of these memoirs began with the author’s arrival in Australia, and did not feature pre-migration experiences. Increasingly, however, authors write in great detail about their pre-migration lives. I explore two sets of issues arising from a survey of this corpus of writing. First, how do migrants remember and narrate their pre-migration lives? Which aspects of their pre-migration pasts do they privilege? How do they reconstruct a former sense of home? How do their memories migrate? Second, how do non-British migrants’ recollections of their pre-migration lives become part of Australian culture? How do their published memories challenge the notion of Australian history as the history of a territorially-bounded nation-state?
The seminars take place on Wednesdays from 11am; further details and the seminar program are available.